Democracy Alliance President
Each presidential election always seems like the most important one in our lifetime. With the myriad of critical issues facing our country and the world – some of them, like climate change, threatening our very existence – an ever-widening gulf between the two main political parties, and the ongoing radicalization of the GOP, this is clearly how progressives are feeling in 2016.
And we know this for powerfully compelling reasons at the heart of progressive ideals: only the presidency stands in the way of a right-wing lock on each branch of government at the federal level. For example, the next election will determine for a generation to come whether the Supreme Court, which narrowly upheld the Affordable Care Act and ushered in 50-state same sex marriage last year, returns to a role as a bulwark for civil rights and liberties or becomes a complete tool for the suppression of democratic inclusion and extension of corporate power.
What, specifically, is the Democracy Alliance community doing to advance progressive values and ideals in this hugely important election year? Over 100 wealthy individuals and families and the voices and dollars of working people represented by the eight labor organizations in our ranks no doubt will be supporting progressive candidates at record levels. The Republican primary debates have fueled a growing sense of urgency about what is at stake.
Direct support for candidates is vital to many individual DA Partners, but this is not the mission of the DA. Rather, the DA was formed in 2005 for another critical purpose: to build an enduring progressive infrastructure, from think tanks to grassroots organizing, that can not only help our candidates win elections, but can strengthen the policy foundation for advancing progressive government and holding public officials accountable once in office.
What does that mean in 2016? For starters, the 2020 Vision that our Democracy Alliance Partners approved last year keeps us focused both on the longer term picture and on the exigencies of 2016– on investing in taking back power across the country this year and building power for the next decade and beyond. If the steady gains that the right has made in state capitals are not reversed, we’ll see more assaults on labor, voting rights, women’s rights and working families. And if we don’t break escalating conservative control in key states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, the redistricting plans that are drawn up after the next census will cement right-wing power for decades to come.
Direct support for candidates is vital to many individual DA Partners, but this is not the mission of the DA. Rather, the DA was formed in 2005 for another critical purpose: to build an enduring progressive infrastructure, from think tanks to grassroots organizing.
That means increasing activity in 2020 State Funds, starting with the State Engagement Initiative, a critical vehicle for donors to invest in strategic, multi-cycle plans for taking back power both in battleground states and states trending in a progressive direction. There is no path to victory without the mobilized progressive base that assured President Obama’s two impressive wins: Latinos, African-Americans, young people and women. That’s why the DA established the New American Majority Fund to support the civic engagement of these communities – and to help build capacity in others, like LGBT voters, Asian-Americans and working class whites.
In the key issue areas that form the core of our 2020 Vision – an inclusive economy, a fair democracy, and strong action on climate change – we need to build on the momentum for progressive reform we’ve seen in successful campaigns for fair wages, paid sick leave and child care, and automatic voter registration, as well as the president’s bold Clean Power Plan, where the battleground now shifts to the states. We’ve set up funds in each of these areas – economy, democracy and climate – to provide DA donors and our allies with opportunities to invest in social change campaigns that demonstrate what progressives can do to foster economic opportunity, make our nation live up to its democratic ideals, and protect the health and safety of communities. Because the right has been so disturbingly effective at changing the rules of the game to solidify their power and curb ours, DA issue funds are similarly looking to invest in game-changing campaigns that address the structural inequalities that we must overcome if our 2020 Vision is ever to be realized.
We need to build on the momentum we’ve seen in successful campaigns for fair wages, paid sick leave and child care, and automatic voter registration, as well as the president’s bold Clean Power Plan.
DA Partners also support a core group of essential progressive organizations that form an aligned network to advance progressive policies and governance. Some, like Catalist, ensure that the entire movement has access to specialized data, voter models, and expertise. Others, like the Center for American Progress, ColorOfChange.org, and Demos, bolster policy and communications work that links issues and provides intellectual grounding for progressive victories. We also invest in key national partners with strong local affiliates that can move seamlessly between electoral and policy activity, like State Voices, America Votes, the Center for Community Change and the Center for Popular Democracy. Finally, we recommend organizations whose work is critical in a one or more of the DA’s areas of focus, such as the Brennan Center (democracy), Roosevelt Institute (economy), and LeadingGreen (climate change).
We also know the tremendous resources available to the electoral right. Especially in election years like this one, journalists and others often ask us about the Koch Brothers network and suggest the DA is some kind of counterpart to it on the progressive side. There are some similarities, to be sure – donors acting in concert to achieve their vision for the country – but also some critical differences, namely that DA Partners’ investments don’t enhance their “bottom line.” We’re also unlikely to ever match the Koch network’s financial juggernaut, but we don’t have to. We just have to be smart and strategic about a plan to build enduring progressive power – and we think our 2020 Vision plan, if properly resourced, can get us there.
And unlike our opponents on the right, DA donors and organizations are fed up with the current way American politics and elections function. We want the voices of the wealthy to count less in elections and the voices of all Americans to count more, and we’re working to change the system. That’s why a central element of our 2020 Vision plan is a goal to sharply reduce the impact of great wealth in elections and to ensure that our nation’s policy agenda reflects the needs of the many, not a privileged few.
Community, alignment, investment, action: these have been the DA’s watchwords since its founding and will guide our work in this critical election year and beyond. If we can make them all work together in 2016, our 2020 Vision will be a big step closer to reality.